Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU men's basketball prevails at home against Minnesota, outlasts Golden Gophers 76-66

January 18, 2024
MSU guard Jaden Akins floats to the basket at the Breslin Center on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. The Spartans won 76-66 against Minnesota.
MSU guard Jaden Akins floats to the basket at the Breslin Center on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. The Spartans won 76-66 against Minnesota. —

Malik Hall started it and Tyson Walker finished it.

Both graduate students were key pieces at different moments in MSU's 76-66 victory over Minnesota on Thursday night, with Hall tallying a double-double and scoring his 1000th career point at Michigan State. Walker supplemented Hall’s 16 points and 12 rebounds with 21 points of his own on 7-for-13 shooting. As the team has done regularly over the course of the last month, Michigan State’s men’s basketball took care of business at home, downing the Golden Gophers to earn its second straight win in conference play.

It was a tight game, but the Spartans did their job amidst a favorable stretch of games. Michigan State was anything but pretty at times, especially from the free-throw line. Nonetheless, MSU executed on the defensive end, turning a whopping 19 Minnesota turnovers into 21 points the other way.

Thursday night marked MSU head coach Tom Izzo’s 500th career Big Ten matchup. Minnesota entered in danger of losing its third straight, and to make matters worse for the Golden Gophers, the team played without junior guard Elijah Hawkins due to an ankle injury. 

In what was a competitive first half, MSU did itself a favor by building an early cushion. 

Three buckets from Hall, in conjunction with two fast-break dunks, got Michigan State out to a blazing-hot start. The Spartans led 7-0 with just two minutes in and 13-5 moments later. But Minnesota had an answer, cutting the MSU lead to just three after sloppy defense from the Spartans. 

Senior guard A.J. Hoggard had a big stretch around the ten-minute mark of the first half, where he scored on a pair of downhill drives and fed senior center Mady Sissoko for a slam. 

The Gophers kept it tight right until the end of the first half, when MSU ballooned its lead eight on the back of Walker’s first three of the night. Sophomore guard Braeden Carrington drilled a three on Minnesota’s last possession of the first half and made the Spartan advantage 37-32 heading into the locker room. 

Minnesota certainly gave the Spartans a run for their money in the second half as they refused time after time to wither under the pressure of the Breslin Center. MSU, however, showed something it didn’t in its first month of play: the ability to stay collected down the stretch of a tight contest.

When the Golden Gophers took their first lead of the night out of the break, Hall answered the bell. He knocked down a three, then rocked the Breslin Center moments later with a thunderous dunk to reach a monumental 1,000 career points at MSU. 

The Spartans shot an astounding 20 free throws in the second half — they reached the bonus in just five minutes. This made things difficult for Minnesota defensively, having to defend without fouling against a physical MSU team. However, the Spartans hurt themselves at the line. They shot just 15-for-23 from the charity stripe on the night.

Minnesota did an excellent job of making its shots to stay in the game. But, MSU also missed a ton of open looks. It was about as close as a game can get with both teams putting their all on the floor. In the end, it was the Spartans who tightened their screws in the final moments to emerge victorious. 

MSU’s big men did their job late on Garcia, who was a non-factor in the final three minutes, and Walker did what he does best: put the icing on the cake. MSU’s leading scorer logged 12 of MSU’s final 14 points to sink the Golden Gophers in what was an incredible back-and-forth contest

The Spartans now return to road action, where they’ve been handed three out of their four Big Ten losses. The team will meet a middling Maryland squad coming off a three-point loss at Northwestern. Just three days prior to their defeat in Evanston, the Terrapins bested No. 10 Illinois by nine at home. 

This presents MSU with the opportunity to transform its fortunes on the road in the midst of a favorable stretch in the schedule for the Spartans. Tip-off between MSU and Maryland is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21 in College Park.

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